Updated: Jan 3, 2020
It's that time of year - and I'm not talking about the family time and the festivities. No, that time has passed and we are about to enter diet culture's most powerful month. However, before you start *another* diet or detox, I want you to consider this question: How many times have you made the same resolutions regarding weight loss, exercise and/or symptom management? If the answer is too many to count, keep reading to learn how 2020 can be different!
Fad Diets Don't Work (and they are called fad diets for a reason)
I'm sorry, but this is what the research consistently shows. While multiple diets may help someone to initially lose weight (and truthfully, the research shows that MANY different types of diets can provide this same initial outcome - low fat, low carb, you name it - so one macronutrient or food is not really the villain), this weight loss is typically not long-term. I'm sure you've all been there - getting excited to try a new diet, seeing it "work" for a few weeks or a few months" and then it stops working, but all of the sudden, it's not the diet that stopped working - it's your fault. Sound familiar? That is what the diet industry makes you believe - that you didn't have the willpower or that this diet wasn't a good fit but the next one will be great! Right? Wrong!
Also, it's worth noting that weight loss does not automatically equal improved health, improved happiness and improved body image. Weight loss just equals weight loss - nothing else.
So, why don't diets work? And, why does weight loss NOT equal improved health, happiness and body image? Sustainability.
Here's the thing: If you can't picture following the changes you plan to make for the next year, 5 years, 10 years, etc. then this diet will not work for you. Why? It's simple -when you stop following the diet, it will stop working. And if you commit to the laws of keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, whatever it may be - you will likely experience some conflict of interest with social plans, food preferences, your schedule and many other factors that can make it so difficult to follow specific food rules daily for the rest of your life. And if you do manage to follow these food rules long-term, there is still no guarantee that your body image, your happiness, your health, your stress and overall wellness will improve. In fact, I have seen many of these factors worsen with dieting time and time again, despite the popular belief that weight loss will a) solve all problems b) kickstart a new, confident, healthy you and c) ultimately make you happy.
I talk a lot with my clients about the scarcity vs. abundance mindset. In short, each mindset is as follows:
Scarcity Mindset: The feeling that something is not widely available, which places this thing on a pedestal. In the context of food, this can be compared to the "last supper" mentality. For example, when I meet with clients, I often ask them about their favorite food. I listen as I hear the sound of delicious foods, such as pizza, ice cream, bread, cookies, bagels, tacos, you name it. Then, I ask what they are thinking about if I told them "now what if I told you that you could not eat that food for the next 3 months?" The answer is almost always something along the lines of "I wish I ate that before I came here - and I would have eaten a lot of it". The truth is, I didn't change anything other than reframing the psychology behind that food choice. This person was not necessarily thinking about this food before we started talking or even on their way to their appointment. However, now it suddenly became of paramount importance.
I, of course, do not actually want my clients to avoid their favorite foods. In fact, I work hard to develop recipes and find suitable alternatives and brands for all foods when I work with clients following a symptom management diet so that they do not need to avoid their favorite foods. And if I am working with someone in order to improve healthy habits and overall wellness, all foods fit.
There is an interesting study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment that demonstrates the scarcity mindset very well. In this landmark study, 36 healthy men were subject to semi-starvation measures. As a part of a 3-phase study, the men were provided a 3-month period of ~3200 calories per day and then this amount was cut in half (~1600 calories per day) for a period of 3 months. While the goal of the study was to study the effects of starvation and gain insight into the effects of refeeding starved civilians after war, the results of the study have been used to demonstrate the scarcity mindset. These men were hungry - very hungry - and the effects of the preoccupation with food that can be found in this study are astounding. And the interesting part is the amount of calories provided likely does not seem that low. In fact, many people that initially come to me trying to lose weight are often eating fewer than the ~1600 calories most days. Granted, each person has their own energy needs based on age, sex, height, weight and activity level, but the point is this calorie range is not as low as one might think when they hear the word starvation.
Abundance Mindset: The feeling that something is widely available and accessible. In the context of food, this translates to giving yourself complete physical and mental access to this food. In doing so, you are less likely to feel guilty regarding food choices because you have given yourself full permission to eat this food. Additionally, you are going to be less likely to binge on this food, because you know that you can eat it at any other time. It is no longer special or a treat or a "reward". It is simply food, just like all other foods and it has a place in a balanced diet just like all other foods.
Granted, this mindset shift does not happen overnight. It takes work - hard work. However, if you can understand this concept, it is a great starting point and you will then be ready to put it into practice. This is what I do with many of my clients and it is a process that takes time.
As a side note, what happens in the context of symptom management? Since I specialize in digestive health, I often work with clients who sincerely need to avoid certain foods due to medical necessity. Oftentimes, this limited diet is temporary and I work with clients in the least restrictive way possible in order to ultimately liberalize their diet while managing symptoms so that person can ultimately enjoy the least restrictive, most nutritious diet for them, because each person is unique. Sometimes, this limited diet is permanent. In this case, I provide suitable alternatives with the person's dietary needs and food preferences in mind and we work together to find a new normal for this person.
Okay, So What About Detoxes?
I'll keep this one short - your body is equipped with its own detoxification system: your kidneys and liver. As long as you have a functioning liver and kidneys, you are already detoxifying your body on your own - yay! If you do not have optimally functioning detoxification organs, the answer is still not to starve yourself for days/weeks with juices and powders. In this case, your doctor will develop a plan that works for you - no nasty and unsatisfying juices needed.
So, What Can I Do?
The answer isn't sexy, but the best thing that you can do for your health is to make small, sustainable changes. These changes may ultimately lead to a change in weight, but it is impossible to guarantee a specific weight change. However, we do know that it is completely possible to improve your health, no matter what you weigh. Below is a quick framework for developing your own, sustainable goals, so you can start 2020 with realistic goals that CAN improve your health, wellbeing and happiness:
Make a list of your top goals/what you aspire to work on (think of this as the "this is what I'm telling everyone I plan to do checklist")
Make a second list of the activities/things that consume most of your time. Now compare the lists. If they do not match up, use this as a wake-up call that you will likely never meet your goals if you are not making these goals a priority. Consider ways that you can shift your priorities to allow room for changes, keeping in mind that the most sustainable changes are small changes!
Consider things that you love doing (maybe it is a sport, maybe it is cooking, maybe it is reading - this is meant for you to personalize your goal so it actually matters to you!)
Consider how you can bridge your goals so that they can intersect with these activities/things that you already love. For example: If you want to exercise more and you love playing soccer, consider joining a local league. If you love cooking and you want to eat healthier, consider committing to trying 1 new recipe per week that includes veggies that you may not be familiar with. These are the goals that ultimately build healthy habits and you can continue to build on them as you meet these goals and adjust them accordingly, so you continue to challenge yourself.
This year, don't get caught in the cycle of making the same New Year's resolutions again. Instead, consider your goals and how you can realistically reach these goals. Your body doesn't need a detox or a diet. It needs to be nourished, appreciated and loved. Cheers to a wonderful 2019 and wishing everyone a healthy, happy 2020!